Thursday, 22 December 2016

King's College London and Dr George Carey

Few people like to be hurried and few like to be disapproved of. I guess those are thoughts you might find in a handbook of Nudge theory. There are gentler ways of getting people to go in the right direction than hectoring them.

I think hectoring may be an element in the rise of what we now call Populisms – political movements generally led by demagogues and targetting those less educated, less affluent and, generally, older and set in their ways. Insofar as the Politically Correct have hectored these people, Populism gives them a chance to talk back – though not necessarily in their own voices.

Some things you can change very quickly and people will go along with the change, even if they find it hard. Other things you can change quickly if you just have to change the rules,  but it takes time for people to come onside with the change. Instead of hectoring people, pointing fingers at them, ostracising them, it might be a better strategy to wait a bit and give people a chance.

I am no fan of marriage – I tried it once and I don’t intend to repeat it and I don’t think I have ever recommended it to anyone. When my children decided to marry, they decided of their own accord. They weren’t prompted or nagged or bribed.

When gay marriage arrived a few years ago, I had no objections but also no enthusiasm.  I was simply disappointed to realise that lots of gay people wanted to get in on an institution which I think of as conservative and a cement for conservatism. But if people want to sign up to marriage, well, that’s their own affair and I’ll congratulate when they announce their plans. I felt a bit more enthusiasm for heterosexual couples who wanted to be able to enter into civil partnerships, the alternative to marriage originally offered to gay people. Civil partnerships sound better to me than marriage.

Since marriage in its heterosexual variant had been around for an awfully long time and is deeply woven into the beliefs and practices of religious organisations, I did not expect that gay marriage would be instantly accepted and by everyone. The broadly secular majority didn’t mind but the fairly large non-secular minority did mind, sometimes a lot.

The sensible thing would be to give these people time to come on board. Since they were mostly elderly, they might well die before that point arrived. That’s often the way in which changes get embedded. You have to wait for people to die off.

I read today that King’s College, London has taken off the walls a portrait of Dr George Carey, former Archbishop of Canterbury, because of his past, public opposition to gay marriage. Well, I don’t like the Church of England one bit but I was not delighted by this news. It seems to be the sort of thing fundamentalists do – people who can’t live with the Bamyan statues or Palmyra or, in this case, a reminder that not everyone is on the same side on every issue. Dr Carey probably believes in many things I don’t believe  in and which the decision makers at King’s College don’t believe in. But why did they pick gay marriage as a reason to take his portrait down? Would they have done if he was in favour of hanging or fox hunting or Brexit or castration of sex offenders or the rehabilitation of Stalin or prohibition of alcohol or simply because he believes in a state-approved and state-funded version of God (now there is a reason, I am tempted to say)?


One of the problems with fundamentalists is that they are insecure. But you don’t overcome that by ostracising those you disagree with. You strengthen your position by becoming more confident about it and that probably means, more relaxed about it. Dr Carey is going to die anyway and with him beliefs you disagree with. Why not leave it at that – though, true,  I wouldn’t mind if you chose to blow a raspberry each time you pass his photograph. I would be indulgent towards that; he was an Archbishop of a state church, after all. 

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